This week, we are joining the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and other local and national organizations on a week of action in defense of Black immigrants. With waning media coverage of the administration’s horrible treatment of Haitian migrants in Texas since mid-September, the Biden administration believes that it can now sweep ongoing mistreatment of Haitians and other Black migrants under the rug.
Now is the time to mobilize and to show the administration that we are watching—and that we’ve had enough.
Yesterday, our community partners in New Orleans at Unión Migrante organized a march to City Hall for immigrant justice. Later this week, there are actions planned in Washington D.C., California, Louisiana, New York, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, and North Carolina. Visit the No More Deportations website, or click the link HERE, to find an action in your area.
And if you don’t see an action near you? Get together a few friends and community members, use the Haitian Bridge Alliance toolkit to organize your own, and add click “Host an Event” on the No More Deportations website. An action could be as simple as a small vigil in honor of the families and children deported under Title 42, or a rally in front of a local or federal government building.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement released new, more comprehensive datasets this week (this link updates regularly – I’m accessing August 23) regarding the number of people in detention and those participating in the “alternative to detention” program – which is principally ankle-monitoring. The numbers have fallen off pretty dramatically since last year. Fiscal year 2020 began on October 1, 2019 with approximately 53,000 people incarcerated by ICE. There are 21,007 people in ICE custody as of August 15, 2020. Of these, 20,785 are in adult detention facilities, and 222 are in Family Residential Centers – which means a mix of adults and children who are a part of family units. That is an enormous decline – and certainly in other times would be cause for some cautious optimism. However, in the current context this number reflects trends outside of ICE’s detention network that are seriously disturbing: Massive summary expulsions at the border and ongoing deportations.
People transferred to detention facilities (“book-ins”) come from two main sources: arrests at the border, and internal removal operations. In recent years the number of people transferred from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) constituted a majority of people in detention (73% in FY 2019). Now, these transfers are a much smaller portion of those in custody. Of the 3,986 people booked into ICE custody thus far in August, for example, only 736 were transferred from CBP, or 18%. Back in October the percentage of people booked-in from CBP was 54%, or 13,303 of 24,728. Looking at month to month trends, we can see that the CBP numbers drop off dramatically from March to April of this year and this is due to one primary cause: Title 42 removals.
Title 42 removals are in essence, summary expulsions from the U.S. under the framework of a Center for Disease Control order concerning border controls as a response to COVID-19. At the southern border this has meant a halt to all “non-essential” travel across ports of entry (including applications for asylum), and the immediate expulsion of anyone crossing between ports of entry. People who are picked up by CBP are now simply removed, with no due process. In most cases they are not even given identification numbers (an “A” number) that would allow them to be tracked and contacted by family members. Indeed, if people arrested are from Mexico or Central America they are removed by land immediately – in essence, simply pushed back across the border with no more processing than a name check. For people from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, where they end up is far from clear. Some have been pushed back into Mexico as well, even though Mexico initially refused to accept them. Others, children and families in particular, have been placed in hotels in Texas until they can be removed. Finally, because they are not processed the same as before, others just disappear into Border Patrol or U.S. Marshall custody until they can be expelled. Advocates working with people from Haiti, for example, have been unable to find them between the time of arrest and their expulsion.
So, long story short, the fall off in the number of transfers from CBP, and hence a major source of the decline in ICE detentions, is not the result of more humane treatment at the border, but quite the opposite. From March 18 through the end of July, more than 105,000 people had been expelled under Title 42.
The number of book-ins is also down because ICE reduced – they did NOT suspend – internal removal operations. From March to June the number of people transferred to detention facilities as a result of ICE internal operations fell about 50% – from 10,153 in March to 5,608 in April and to a monthly low of 5,090 in June. There is a backstory here as well. On March 18, 2020, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Matthew Albence, issued a statement declaring, “[t]o ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response … [ICE] will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture.” The statement was not vetted by administration officials, and apparently folks in the Trump inner circle were angry. Though Albence was no humanitarian, it is probably not a coincidence that he then announced his retirement in July under pressure from the Miller wing of the immigration Stasi. Also, probably not a coincidence, in July the number of ICE transfers into detention from internal removal operations began to creep back up, and so far in August are at a pace to go over 8,000 for the month.
As noted ICE was holding about 53,000 people at the beginning of the fiscal year. There have been 169,811 book-ins since then. 21,007 people remain in custody. That means close to 202,000 people have left ICE custody over the year. Where did they go? Most were deported. ICE reports 173,358 removals so far this fiscal year. To be clear, this does NOT include the 110,000 people removed through Title 42 expulsions – which by and large are tracked and enforced by Customs and Border Protection, not ICE.
We, and others, have written extensively about ongoing deportations during COVID-19. Last week a few new pieces came out documenting how deportations are spreading COVID-19. The Miami Herald also published an investigative article into the companies making money from the process, which we also discussed here.
So, there is little to celebrate in the fall off in detention to a near twenty year low of 21,007. Rather, it is the result of inhumane, possibly illegal, summary expulsions at the border, a temporary reduction of ICE enforcement operations (which was good news, but fleeting), and the administration’s decision to continue to deport people all over the world despite just about everybody from the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe, to members of the House and Senate, to literally hundreds of human rights organizations and thousands of others telling them to stop. Given that the administration has now reached the bottom in terms of Border Patrol transfers, and ICE seems prepared to increase internal removal operations again, this number is likely to begin increasing again.
Detention Watch Network, of which the Quixote Center is a member, issued the following call for a National Day of Action today related to the #FreeThenAll campaign. Take a look and do what you can!! Peace, Tom
Dear DWN community,
Today, Detention Watch Network (DWN) and communities across the country are joining in a national day of action to call on our elected officials to demand ICE release all people from immigration detention now.
Your governor, mayor, members of Congress, city council members and more need to hear from you.With your influence, they can be moved to call for people to be released from detention and pressure ICE to act. We need the people who represent us to stand up for the health and freedom of people in immigration detention and demand to #FreeThemAll now.
Today’s action will be the first in series of national days of action to #FreeThemAll as we continue to raise our voices and escalate the call to get all people out of detention now.
How to Take Action:
Pressure your elected official. Using this sample template, send an email to your elected official calling on them to demand your ICE Field Office Director release people from detention. Make sure to attach this sample letter to your email for your elected official to send to your ICE Field Office Director. Not sure who your ICE Field Office Director is? Find them here.
The United States has the largest prison population on the planet. Though the number of people incarcerated has been falling over the last five years, there are still close to 2 million people in federal and state prisons, county and local jails, and in the 200 + detention facilities run by Immigrant and Customs Enforcement and border detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection. People who are incarcerated are at a much higher risk of infectious diseases than the general population. Prisons are overcrowded, sanitary conditions are often extremely poor, and access to health services is limited, especially emergency health services that require moving people out of prisons for proper treatment. Incidents of denial of care and delays in getting needed treatment for those incarcerated is well documented throughout the prison system. Private prisons have received the most scrutiny in this regard. However, they hold a relatively small number of the people in state and local prisons and jails, and a declining number – approximately 10% – of those in federal prison. In detention facilities run by ICE, however, private contractors oversee the incarceration of nearly 75% of immigrant detainees. Conditions in publicly run facilities are not much better, and increasingly many public facilities contract with private firms for the delivery of health services anyway. In short, the systemic reality of incarceration is detrimental to the health of those imprisoned, the people working at the facilities, and the broader public. These environmental problems are often magnified by incentives to keep costs as low as possible – which translates into a reduction of services.
As a result of these conditions, the spread of infectious disease is a recurring problem in prisons, raising concerns about the possibility of COVID-19 spreading in prisons and detention facilities.
Detention Watch Network has created an organizing toolkit for folks willing to step up and work toward the release of folk in detention facilities, jails and prisons. The toolkit is actually pretty amazing in scope – covering ideas for federal, state and local actions, including sample letters, emails and call-scripts to policy makers, as well as a variety of templates, including letters for attorneys filing for humanitarian release. There are also guides for creating (or engaging with existing!) community networks that provide support for people upon release from detention. You can view the entire document here.
Part of the document – that I will lift out here – is a list of petitions that are open around the country. These are quick actions you can take right now!